Local news apps designed for mobile phones are popping up around the country and journalists are being hired to work on them. This week their owners are meeting to form a new network that could give established local media outfits a run for their money.
The Independent App Network of New Zealand is holding its inaugural conference in Christchurch on Thursday.
Chances are you’ve never heard of the network - but its members are employing journalists from Wellington to Ashburton and they’re covering everything from hard news to sports and the arts.
Two years ago Tony O’Regan – a former radio advertising sales manager – developed the Wanaka App. It’s for phones and tablets only and delivers daily news, sports reports, weather, road information and paid-for directories ranging from trades and services to restaurants and jobs.
With Facebook and Google gobbling up more than 80 percent of online advertising, most media start-ups, both here and overseas, are relying on new sources of funding such as sponsorship and subscriptions. But the independently-owned apps seem to be successfully tapping into a demand for localised, directory-style advertising.
Next month the Wellington App will be launched, becoming the seventh in the network, and it’s already attracted the backing of Wellington's city and regional councils.
Mediawatch first became aware of the apps a few months back when it spotted the Nelson App advertising for a sports reporter. That was around the same time that Stuff had announced it was culling its regional sports journalists.
Andrew Board, managing director of the Nelson App and the independently owned Nelson Weekly, says Stuff's decision to pull out of sports reporting in the regions left the Nelson App with "a really good point of difference."
"It was certainly an opportunity for us to double down on our sports coverage."
The app has now been downloaded by more than 17,000 people.
Board says he's increased his team of journalists by 70 hours a week because of the app.
It's also allowed him more flexibility in how stories are covered, he says. With space not being a consideration the Nelson App would publish long form reviews of most of the shows in the recent Nelson Fringe Festival.
He says the app was the first news outlet in the country to report a recent murder in the city.
Tony O'Regan says news apps - unlike news websites - are providing a sustainable advertising revenue stream.
"What we found was that there was a lot of pent up demand. What was really interesting, the moment we would show someone what we were doing they would say: 'Oh yeah, I get that. Why wouldn't there be a local app?'"
O'Regan says he's opted for a licensing arrangement rather than a franchise model.
"The idea is that local, independent operators, like Andrew, can take advantage of that in a really cost-effective way."